Kit Carson (1940)





Director:     George B. Seitz

Starring:     Jon Hall (Kit Carson), Lynn Bari (Dolores Murphy), Dana Andrews (Captain John C. Frémont), Harold Huber (Lopez), Ward Bond (Ape), Renie Riano (Miss Pilchard), Clayton Moore (Paul Terry), Rowena Cook (Alice Terry), Raymond Hatton (Jim Bridger), Harry Strang (Sergeant Clanahan), C. Henry Gordon (General Castro), Lew Merrill (General Vallejo), Stanley Andrews (Larkin), Edwin Maxwell (John Sutter), George Lynn (James King).

Kit Carson (Jon Hall) fights with cavalry officer (Dana Andrews) over a woman (Lynn Bari).



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"A century ago, the land from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast Range of the Rocky Mountains was still a mysterious wilderness, its tremendous primeval vastnesses unexplored except for the wanderings of a few hard-bitten American trappers, among who Kit Carson was a leader."

Kit Carson rides along with his fur-trapping buddies Ape and Lopez.  Behind them come many more fur trappers.  They are headed for Fort Bridger [Located now in Fort Bridger, Wyoming.  It was a fur trading outpost established in 1842 on the Blacks Fork of the Green River and later was a vital resupply point for wagon trains on the Oregon Trail, California Trail and Mormon Trail.]  Kit stops to take a close look at some horse tracks in the sand.  He says they are Shoshone pony tracks.  The fellows say that things have been too quiet lately.  Just as Ape says he bets there are no Indians around here for twenty miles, an Indian shots an arrow right into the chest of the leader of the trailing group of fur trappers. Then the entire group of Indians start shooting arrows and firing rifles at the trappers.

The main brunt of the attack comes on the trailing group of fur trappers.  Carson and his buddies are able to find some shelter behind some rocks.  The Shoshone kill the main body of trappers and take their donkeys which are loaded down with animal furs, especially beaver pelts.  The Shoshone attack Kit and his two comrades.  Three chiefs lead the attack and the three are all shot off their horses by the three friends.  This slows down the momentum of the attack.  When they recover and charge again the three men use their pistols to shoot three more Indians.  The Shoshone fall back.  Night starts to descend and the men say this will keep them safe from the Indians who are superstitious against fighting at night. 

Kit retrieves two white bodies with the use of ropes.  The trio then tie upright the two dead bodies to two horses.  Kit gets on one of the horses with an upright dead body.  He then charges out from behind their rock shelter.  The men do a lot of hooting and hollering and this alerts the Shoshone to what's happening.  The Indians take the bait and charge after the horses and riders.  Kit rides far out and when he feels it safe he jumps off his horse and the two horses keep on running, while Kit hides amongst some plants.  The Shoshone go right past the hidden fur trapper leader. 

"Fort Bridger  --  the last link with civilization, jumping-off pace for the early wagon trains which dared the Oregon Trail."    Jim Bridger himself carries a big sack of flour over to the current head of a wagon train being formed up at Fort Bridger.  ["James Felix "Jim" Bridger was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820-1850 . . ."]

Military man and explorer John C. Frémont comes over to Mr. Bridger and tells him that he is thinking of sending out a scouting party for Kit Carson.  Bridger says the problem is that they don't know from which direction Carson is going to be coming. 

Carson, Ape and Lopez comes into Jim Bridger's general store and surprise Jim.  The old man tells Carson that Frémont and his expedition and a wagon train has been waiting for Carson's arrival for some three weeks time.  They all want to be taken out to California.  He then asks where are all the other trappers?  Carson explains that the Shoshone killed the men and took all of their pelts.  Carson then shows Bridger the answer why the men were overwhelmed.  He shows Jim a rifle.  Jim says it's a Spanish rifle used by the Mexicans.

Jim puts the men up in his hotel where they have a large semi-public bath.  The three friends hop in the large male section of the public bath.  On the other side of a barrier is a woman named Dolores Murphy and her companion, who are with the wagon train.  Frémont and Bridger, along with the temporary wagon master, Mr. Terry, come in to talk with Carson.  His expedition is charged by the government to find the most efficient route to California from Fort Bridger and he really wants Carson to be his scout and guide.  The problem is that Carson believes that such a trip would be too arduous for the wagon train and, therefore, he doesn't want to go to California.  And what's worse is the civilians would be facing Shoshone with Spanish rifles. 

From the other side of the divider Dolores hears Carson's reason for not wanting to go to California.  She is upset that Carson is not going to lead the wagon train.  So also are Frémont and Terry.  Dolores says she's going to have a little talk with Carson. 

Carson drops his bar of soap and it goes under the divider and into the lady's section.  Carson dives under the divider to get his soap, but is met with loud screams from Dolores.  Quickly, Carson gets back on his own side and Bridger apologizes for not mentioning there was a woman on the other side of the divider.  Her names is Dolores Murphy and it's said that her pappy owns half of California. 

At the wagon train the temporary leader Terry says maybe he was a fool because he never figured that Carson wouldn't lead them.  Frémont says he and his men are heading to California.  It's a free country and he can't stop the wagon train from following their expedition.  So Terry tells his people to get ready to leave with Frémont Frémont admits to Dolores that the trip would be easier if Carson was coming along, so she goes over to talk to Carson.  She offers him $1,000 dollar in gold to take them to California.   In addition she will pay $200 dollars each to his two assistants.   Carson turns her down and she walks away.

The guys start working on Carson saying that some Shoshone is going to grab Dolores up and take her away.  Then the men say they are lucky because all they have to do is eat and sleep all day long here at Fort Bridger doing nothing.  They keep putting on the pressure while the expedition and the wagon trains leave Fort Bridger. 

On  the trail here comes Carson and company.  Carson rides up to Terry's wagon and tells Terry that he will be taking over as wagon master.  Terry is glad to see that happen.  The next thing Carson does is to catch up with Dolores.  He trades places with the male driver of the wagon and starts flirting with Dolores. 

The Shoshone keep an eye out on the wagon train as it makes progress toward California.  At night Carson asks Dolores to dine with him and his men, but Dolores says she's eating dinner with Captain Frémont

Still watching the wagons are the Shoshone along with a Mexican army officer, Lt. Ruiz, who is supplying them with rifles and advice. 

The Office of the Military Governor of California, General Castro.  The Shoshone contact officer reports to the governor that now the wagon train is entering the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.  [The Sierra Nevada Mountain range is located in California and Nevada, between the Central Valley and the Basin and Range Province. The Sierra runs 400 miles (640 km) north-to-south, and is approximately 70 miles (110 km) across east-to-west. Notable Sierra features are Lake Tahoe, Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft (4,421 m),  Yosemite Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks, and Devils Postpile National Monument.]

So far the Mexicans have given the Shoshone 500 rifles.  And now the governor wants his aide to go back and make sure the Shoshone stop the whites from crossing the Sierra Nevada Range. 

From Fort Bridger the caravan takes the California Trail into today's Utah going through the Cache Valley to the north of the Great Salt Lake  that lies farther south.  In Nevada is the heart of Shoshone Country. 

Lt. Ruiz says that tonight they will attack the wagon train.  At the wagon train the horses are starting to get nervous, so the three amigos go out to check on them.  They figure the horses are smelling Indians in the area.  Dolores knits socks for Carson.  She tries to talk to him, but he is too busy going out looking for the Shoshone.  The trio overhears a conversation between one brave, Lt. Ruiz, and the chief saying that they will run off the horses belonging to the cavalry, thereby crippling the men.  After the Indians leave, Carson checks their horse tracks.  He notices that the man giving the plan to one of the Shoshone chiefs rides a horse that make tracks that toe out.  That is no mark made by a Shoshone horse.  They should get back to tell everyone at the wagon train. 

Alone with Dolores, Frémont discloses his fondness forher.  He is interrupted by Carson who tells Dolores that she has to go to bed now.  She objects, so Carson swoops her up in his arms and puts her into her wagon.  Now Carson and his buddies get Frémont to go with them to check on the horses and their sentries. 

The Carson groups stands a bit behind the sentries.  No one has noticed yet that the Shoshone are hiding behind bushes which they carry with them to get closer and closer to the sentries.  All of a sudden the Shoshone drop their cover, stand up and charge the sentries, firing their rifles as they go.  The sentries are killed straight off. Carson and company return fire.  Also opening fire are some of the men of the wagon train.  The cavalry also join in the fight.  The Shoshone have to retreat very quickly. 

Carson and his buddies start searching for the horse tracks that are toe out.  Lopez says they are Spanish horse shoes.  They find the tracks and set up a trap for the Mexican.  Carson says he figures they can bring the mystery man out in the open if he gives three coyote calls.  And, sure enough, Lt. Ruiz, comes down and gets turned upside down in the trap noose on the ground.  The men tie Ruiz to a tree and throw a hatchet and a knife close to him over and over again.  Then they rough him up a little.  Frémont and Dolores arrive and are shocked at the torture techniques the trio is using on the Indian.  Dolores even calls Carson a savage.  Carson says that this Indian is actually Lt. Ruiz of the Mexican Army and led by Gen. Castro.  He's the one who has been supplying the Shoshone with Spanish rifles.  Ruiz says that Gen. Castro's big goal is to be the Emperor of Mexico and California. 

Frémont changes his tune knowing that the penalty for violating the law against supplying weapons to Indians to kill men, women and children is death by firing squad.  He has a four man firing squad form and they shoot Lt. Ruiz dead.  Now Dolores thinks less of Frémont.  She now apologizes to Carson for what she said about him. 

The wagon train goes into California to start up the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Gen. Castro tells his aide that Lt. Ruiz was a bumbling fool and to send more guns and ammunition to the Shoshone.

Frémont wants to go straight into the Sierra Nevada mountains, but Carson says the way just leads to a dead end.  So he says he is taking the wagons on an extra- 60 mile long trek around the route that Frémont is going to take.  Carson tells Frémont that the pass he is taking is perfect for an ambush attack on the cavalry.  Frémont won't change his mind.  So Carson tells him to look them up if he ever makes it to Monterey (on the Pacific Coast south of Santa Cruz and north of San Simeon Park).  Dolores says goodbye to Frémont as the two groups go their separate ways. 

The new Mexican advisor tells the Shoshone chief to send half of his forces to destroy Frémont and the other half to destroy Carson.  Shortly after Frémont's forces gets past the entrance the Indians close the entrance/exit by pushing over huge stones into the narrow valley.  A fight starts immediately between the Shoshone and the cavalry.

The wagon train people hear the sounds of battle.  Carson has the wagon trains form a circle.  He then sends Terry out to stand guard to watch for a possible Shoshone attack. Terry takes up a good position, but the Shoshone forces are already there and they capture him.  The Mexican shoots Terry dead when he tries to escape.  The shot warns the wagon train people.  Before dying, Terry says to the Mexican:  "Thanks for doing my job."

The Shoshone attack the wagon train going around it in circles. The Carson trio are racing back to the wagon train, when Dolores saves Carson's life by shooting a Shoshone about to brain Carson with his tomahawk. 

Now both groups of whites are in trouble and on the defensive.  Carson says that neither group is strong enough to break out of this fighting, but if somehow they could get the two white groups together they could be victorious.  Carson has an idea.  He is going to blast the cavalry out of their trap.  The wagon men start filling up a covered wagon with lots of gun powder.  Carson then just drives the powder wagon right out of there and past the Shoshone.  He releases the horses from the wagon.  The wagon heads straight into the rock blockagel  There is a big explosion opening the passageway so the cavalry can get out.  A cavalry man grabs an extra horse for Carson and they all race to stop the Indian attack on the wagon train. 

Hacienda Murphy, Monterey, California.  Mr. Murphy puts on a big home-coming party.  Meanwhile, Gen. Castro is planning the destruction of the American-owned haciendas.  Within a week Castro is going to declare himself ruler of California and Mexico. 

Carson is a terrible dancer so he doesn't stay long at the party.  Ape tells Carson that he is in love with Dolores' friend Genevieve.  Carson asks him how can he reconcile marriage with a love of hunting and traveling around the country?  Kit says for himself he's getting back to the type of life he was made for.  And he wants to leave now.  

He writes a note to Dolores explaining that he is going back to where he belongs.  Frémont finds her crying after reading the note.  So Frémont asks her to marry him.  She says she still loves Carson, but if he can endure that, she will try to make the best of a marriage to John C. Frémont

The Carson trio out riding comes across a Mexican army encampment with lots of guns and ammunition for Castro.  They decide to sneak up and get a better look.  They knock out a guard and sneak up on Vallejo, an aide close to Castro.  Vallejo likes Americans and he says he's happy to see the three men.  He says he has a strong feeling that this is the last of his many gun runs for the general.  He thinks Castro wants to get rid of him.  Castro wants to use the guns and ammunition in his war against the California Americanos.  The general is riding right now to destroy the outlying Americano haciendas. 

The Mexican troops starts burning out the Americanos.  Like Paul Revere, Carson rides around the area warning Americans that Castro is going to burn down all the houses of the Californian Americanos.  Meanwhile, Ape and Lopez, drive the wagons to the Murphy hacienda.  Ape tells Frémont that General Castro is burning out all the Americans. 

The Americans start to rally together.  The feeling arises among the men to make California a part of the United States.  Murphy says they could make the Hacienda Murphy their own country and hoist their own flag over it.  And now Frémont says he puts himself and his men at the disposal of the California Republic.  The women create a flag with a Bear symbol on it.  Carson arrives in time to see the new flag go up.   After the ceremony he talks to Dolores and she tells him that she told Frémont that she would marry him.  Carson says that's good because Frémont is such a fine man. 

Carson speaks with the Californians.  He recommends that they take the women and children who can't fight someplace safe.  Then he would gather the men together who can fight and head into the hills.  If Castro moves on American houses, then the men can quickly get back down from the hills to fight off Castro.  He talks to Mr. Sutter (on whose land gold will later be found).  If Castro comes for the Murphy Hacienda, the men will come down from the hills and hit the Castro forces from behind taking the general by surprise.  And this will mean the independence for the California Republic. 

The women, old men and children leave the Murphy hacienda.  Dummies will now be placed up on the top of the hacienda walls to appear as armed guards.  Carson and his men will stay at the hacienda, while Frémont and his Californians will be up in the hills waiting for Carson's signal to attack.  Frémont asks Carson to walk him out of the hacienda.   He tells Carson that Dolores loves her mountain man and that's the thing that counts.  But Carson says he's not fit for her.  He says Frémont is a born gentleman, not a crude ruffian like Carson. 

A messenger comes along and says that Castro and his men just came over the river and are coming down through the west canyon. 

Castro has his cannon start firing at the hacienda.  The trio have a lot of weapons at the ready to be fired.  This way they start inflicting heavy casualties on the Mexicans.  A cannonball bursts through the front of the hacienda fence and Carson is wounded in the left shoulder.  Dolores is right there to help tend to his wound.   Also there is Genevieve to help load the rifles.  The next cannon ball knocks down the front gate to the hacienda. 

Carson has set up a bunch of powder to explode right in front of the Mexican cavalry's faces.  As the cavalry comes closer Carson lights the fuse but it goes out.  Carson is going to run out there to set the powder off, but Ape knocks him out with a blow to the face and then Ape sets off the powder by firing a bullet into a powder keg.  The explosion kills Ape.  It's a large blast and is the signal for Frémont and his men to attack from behind the Castro forces.  The Mexicans now have to run for their lives.

Three weeks later.  Carson tells Delores that he's heading out over the mountains to the other side, even though his right shoulder has not completely healed.  She tries to get him to stay saying the fight for California intendance is still not finished.  He tells her that Frémont will take care of the rest of the battles.  He says goodbye to Delores.  Frémont comes over telling Carson that he can't go now.  A courier just came from General Kearney.  The United States has declared war on Mexico and the Californians are ordered to Los Angeles to attack Castro.  Carson says but he's not in the army.  Oh, yes, he is.  The President of the United States has just appointed Christopher Carson to be Chief of Scouts in the service of the United States, July 25, 1846.  So now it's Colonel Carson.  And as a Colonel his first task is to march Frémont away from him and Delores.  He then gives Dolores and big hug and kiss.  Frémont starts out with his troops for Los Angeles.  He is soon joined by Colonel Carson. 


Good movie even though it doesn't even mention that the Frémont expedition was also a scientific expedition studying the plants and animal and the geology of he area.  The needs of a scientific expedition wound not fit in well with the needs of a wagon train full of people.  For one thing, the scientific expedition would be much slower than the wagon train.  And Kit Carson was a much mote famous man than one who just made three scientific expeditions out west.  He was the man who followed order to use a scorched earth policy to force the Navajo people into going on reservations.  That was an important campaign.  Jon Hall (as Kit Carson) was very good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background:


1809  --  Kit Carson (1809-1868) was born in Kentucky.  The Carson family settled on a tract of land owned by the sons of Daniel Boone

1817  --  Carson was eight years old when his father was killed by a falling tree while clearing land.  The family fell into poverty.

His family moved to Howard County, Missouri.  

1823  --  at age 14 Carson was apprenticed to a saddle maker in the settlement of Franklin, Missouri at the eastern end of the Santa Fe Trail.

1826  -- at the age of 17 he ran away from home in the company of a party of hunters heading for Santa Fe, New Mexico.  

winter of 1826–1827 --  Carson stayed with Matthew Kinkead, a trapper and explorer, in Taos, New Mexico, then known as the capital of the fur trade in the Southwest. Kinkead taught Carson the skills of a trapper. Carson started learning such as Spanish.  He became fluent in Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Paiute, Shoshone, and Ute.

1829 (August) --with an expedition of 40 men Carson went into Apache country along the Gila River, where he saw his first combat, when his party was attacked. Young's party went on into California trapping and trading from Sacramento to Los Angeles.

1830 (April)  --  after trapping along the Colorado River. Carson returns to Taos. 

1835 (summer)  --  at the age of 25, Carson attended an annual mountain man rendezvous along the Green River in southwestern Wyoming. There he met and became interested in an Arapaho woman known as Waa-Nibe ("Grass Singing").  Accompanied by Singing Grass, he worked with the Hudson's Bay Company, as well as the renowned frontiersman Jim Bridger, trapping beaver along the Yellowstone, Powder, and Big Horn rivers. They trapped throughout what is now Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

1837  --  Carson's first child, a daughter named Adeline, is born.

between 1838–1840  --  Grass Singing dies shortly after giving birth to her second daughter

1840 (summer)  --  Carson attended the last mountain man rendezvous (again at Ft. Bridger near the Green River) and moved on to Bent's Fort, finding employment as a hunter.

1841  --  Carson marries a Cheyenne woman, Making-Our-Road, who left him only a short time later to follow her tribe's migration.

by 1842  --  Carson becomes engaged to the daughter of a prominent Taos family: Josefa Jaramillo.

1842  --  Carson is baptized into the Catholic Church. He returns to Franklin, Missouri. 

1842 (summer)  --  meets John C. Frémont on a Missouri River steamboat.  He became a scout on John C. Fremont's first western expedition (with 25 men).  His report was published by Congress and it "touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with hopeful emigrants" heading West.

1843  --  at age 33, Carson marries his third wife, 14-year-old Josefa. They have eight children together.

1843 (summer)  --  Frémont's second western expedition, mapping and describing the second half of the Oregon Trail, from South Pass to the Columbia River. Carson was the guide for the expedition. They traveled along the Great Salt Lake into Oregon.   The expedition ventured into California and then into Mexican territory.  The party traveled on to Bent's Fort.

by 1844 (August)  --  they returned to Washington, D.C. over a year after their departure.

1845 (June 1)  --, John Frémont and 55 men left St. Louis, with Carson as guide, on the third expedition. He goal was to map the source of the Arkansas River on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. He reaches the Arkansas but then, unexpectedly, suddenly heads straight to California, without explanation.

1846 (early winter)   --  the expedition arrives in the Sacramento Valley.  

In California Frémont nearly provokes a battle with Mexican General José Castro near Monterey, California. Castro's troops so outnumbered the US expedition that they could likely have destroyed it. Frémont fled Mexican-controlled California, and went north to Oregon, making camp at Klamath Lake.

1846 (May 9)  --  Frémont camp is attacked by Indians.  The men beat off the Indians. 

1846 (May 10)  -- in revenge, Frémont attacks a Klamath Tribe fishing village named Dokdokwas, that most likely had nothing to do with the attack.  The village is destroyed.  Frémont saves Carson's life in the battle. 

1846 (June 14)  --  in California Frémont promotes the Bear Flag Revolt.

War between Mexico and the United States.

1846 (mid-July)  --  Frémont's California Battalion meets US Commodore Robert Stockton.  He joins forces with Frémont, and made Carson a lieutenant, thereby initiating Carson's military career.

1846 (August 17)  --  Stockton declares California to be United States territory.

1846 (September)  --  the Navajo raid Socorro, New Mexico.

1846 (October 6)  --  Carson meets Gen. Kearny at Valverde.  He orders Carson to guide him back to California to stabilize the situation there. Carson brings Kearny's men to within 25 miles (40 km) of their destination San Diego.  Mexico takes California back for a while. 

1846 (November 21)  --  the Navajo signed a treaty, known as the Bear Spring Treaty, that forbade the Navajo to raid or make war on the New Mexicans, but allowed the New Mexicans to make war on the Navajo if they saw fit.

1846 (December)  --  Carson distinguishes himself at the Battle of San Pasqual, where he goes to get reinforcements and supplies from San Diego  -- the reinforcements help Kearny win the battle.   The Americans come to re-control California. 

1849 (August 16)  --  the US Army begins an an expedition into the heart of Navajo country on an organized reconnaissance to impress the Navajo with the might of the U.S. military. 

1849  --  Fremont and his wife settle down in Taos, New Mexico.

1849 --  Carson and his wife move to Taos to take up ranching and farming.

1854  --  Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke of the Second Regiment of Dragoons organized an expedition to pursue the Jicarilla. Kit Carson was one of the scouts. 

1858 (January 22) --  Kit Carson concludes a treaty of peace between the Muatche Utah, the Arapaho, and the Pueblo of Taos.

1865  -- brevetted brigadier general (he had organized infantry volunteers for New Mexico).

1868  --  Carson dies of abdominal aortic aneurysm.




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